skip to content

fyi logo

August 1, 2003
Volume 41, No. 1


Cultivating harmony:Campus landscaping projects balance nature and urban development
Retiring doesn't mean retreating

news and briefs

News Briefs
Fair booth to feature sports, health sciences, and more
External funding climbs 4.3 percent
2002-03 Staff retirements
2002-03 Faculty retirements

July Longevity Awards



Bulletin Board

Offices and Awards

Ph.D. Thesis Defenses
Pubs. and Creations

other links

TIAA Cref Unit Values

Staff Development Courses

The University of Iowa

The University of Iowa

Cultivating harmony

Photo of field near the Athletics Hall of Fame Roy G. Kerro Building

Sustainable-landscaping project near the Athletics Hall of Fame Roy G. Karro Building (above) uses native plants for aesthetic and practical purposes. Photos by Tom Jorgensen.

Battling invasive weeds on newly planted University land by the new Athletics Hall of Fame initially was a chore for University groundskeepers; overcoming the public’s perception of the acreage has been another.

spacer.gif Campus landscaping projects balance nature and urban development

Campus planner Larry Wilson started receiving complaints last year about unsightly vegetation along the median of Mormon Trek Boulevard near Melrose Avenue. What the callers didn’t know, however, is that freezing temperatures would soon kill the uninvited guests and that the remaining growth had rhyme and reason.

The plantings on the median and on the land that envelops the adjacent hall of fame and planned athletics complex are part of two projects that incorporate sustainable landscaping, the use of self-sustaining native plants that reflect harmony between nature and urban development. Once established, these plants require minimal labor, watering, and chemical use, therefore saving the University money in maintenance costs. They also attract wildlife and help control erosion and weeds.

Black-eyed Susan wildflowers in a field spacer.gif

University officials began exploring the concept more than a decade ago, when they chose to locate the new athletics facilities on the site west of Finkbine Golf Course. Wilson says project planners wanted to pursue landscaping that would complement the architecture and work well within the existing environment.

“It’s a matter of harmony,” he explains. “We wanted the building and the landscape to be in harmony with each other and also in harmony with the ecological zone.”

Project planners wanted “very simple, very bold” architecture surrounded by a “bold platform of prairie,” he says.

The Boston-based landscape architecture firm Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates, Inc., devised the master landscape plan for both the athletics site and the Mormon Trek median. The firm implemented the athletics site design, while local landscape architect Laura Hawks applied the roadway planting design. Cultivation of the 37-acre athletics site began two summers ago, and the area immediately surrounding the hall of fame was planted late last fall.

The prairie plants selected survive and thrive in eastern Iowa and fit the overall design theme. The flora include butterfly milkweed, prairie clover, and river birch. Native hackberry and prairie dropseed are among the plants on the Mormon Trek median.

Native plants on the highway median
Sustainable-landscaping project on the median of Mormon Trek Boulevard.

The lower areas that collect water have more water-related plants, Wilson explains, while the higher ground—just north of the hall of fame—is home to an “edited” prairie meadow.

“It’s not a complete native prairie mix,” he says. “We’ve overloaded it with wildflowers to keep the public interest higher.”

Prairie meadow plants also surround the competition soccer field on the west side of the site, and a reforestation zone buffers the field from an adjacent University housing development.

When the landscape is mature—two or three years from now—it will continually have plants in bloom. In the meantime, Wilson invites the public to stroll along a mowed grass pathway and watch the progress. He plans to eventually post interpretive signs.

Besides its aesthetic value, this prairie is a working landscape, Wilson says. Because of the area’s natural wetlands, University officials worked with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to implement a water filtration system using a series of settling basins and infiltration strips that help clean the water as it flows northward from the south and east toward the wetlands and Clear Creek.

“Another aspect of this project will be an educational element,” Wilson says. “We’ve already had a teacher from Clear Creek-Amana High School bring her environmental studies students to the site.”

Similar landscaping projects on campus include the volunteer-run restoration of prairie remnants in lower Finkbine Golf Course and west of the Ronald McDonald House. In addition, a pilot project along the Iowa River near the Iowa Memorial Union uses strategic planting to stabilize the riverbank.

Emil Rinderspacher, senior associate director of admissions, is a certified master gardener through Iowa State University Extension. He says interest in sustainable landscaping is growing, especially within commercial development.

“I can see why some people don’t like this type of design. We are so conditioned to manicured lawns, and this has a wilder look. But more and more people are catching on,” he says. “I think the project by the hall of fame works perfectly in that setting. On the Pentacrest, it would be out of context.”

The state of Iowa, he notes, has adopted the concept of sustainable landscaping along roadways, opting to grow wildflowers instead of mowing. And two neighbors in his subdivision north of Iowa City, he adds, have substituted native prairie plants for lawn.

“Not only is it beautiful, it saves money.”

Wilson says he is pleased with the project and how rich the landscape already has become. Plus, no complaints have been filed this summer.

“Sustainable landscaping has been a trend in other places across the country in the past few years, but not in this part of the Midwest,” he says. “Other universities are doing similar types of plantings, but not quite like this. This is pretty unique.”

by Sara Epstein Moninger


Published by University Relations Publications. Copyright the University of Iowa 2003. All rights reserved.


Back to top    Home


University Relations Publications The University of Iowa